I am feeling fairly sick at the moment and I plan on spending tomorrow resting. This, however, does not mean that I will not do anything of any educational value.
If someone saw me tomorrow, they would see me curled under a blanket, earbuds in and with a controller or a graphic novel in my hands. They would most likely conclude that what I was doing carried no educational benefit. This is an assumption made with little information, based on the idea that what entertains us and what educates us is completely separate. The graphic novel in my hands might be in another language or explore ideas and themes in a way unique to its medium. The headphones in my ears might be playing a podcast about medical history, the history of English, psychology, linguistics, art or any number of other academic fields. The game in my hands might be a complex puzzle or strategy game; or an RPG which explores ethics or philosophy in a way which would be impossible without user input.
At MLSS we recognize that the idea that something is not educational unless it was specifically designed to be educational, or that if we do something for its entertainment value it has no educational value, are more of a hindrance than an aid when it comes to pursuing our education.
In traditional educational models people often think in terms of the one right answer. This makes sense in a setting where students must take tests to prove they have successfully learned what is taught. However, this does not make sense in any setting where more than one answer is correct.
If you were to ask someone who had been educated in a traditional American school the question “how many continents are there” you would most likely get the answer: seven. As if the number of continents was a long established fact as simple as the sky being blue. If you asked someone who had been educated in Mexico the same question, you would most likely get a different response. The number of continents there are, is not set in stone and changes depending where in the world you happen to ask.
In my experience, Sudbury students are not as attached to finding the one correct answer, and are more interested in understanding the complex truth. This is a great aid when it comes to philosophy, art or ethics, where “the one correct answer” can be almost unheard of.
About two hundred years B.C. Eratosthenes made the first estimation of the earth’s circumference. Well over a thousand years later, Christopher Columbus believed that he could find a new trade route to India by crossing the Atlantic. He based this belief on newer and less accurate data, leading him to believe that the earth was one third smaller than Eratosthenes’s calculation.
It is easy to look down on the people of the past for their misunderstanding of new evidence, but many apocryphal stories and outdated beliefs exist in modern society. Such as the belief that Christopher Columbus discovered that the world is round, camels carry water in their humps or eating an hour before swimming increases risk of cramping and drowning. Modern beliefs might also fit into our current scientific view of the universe, but later become outdated. It wasn’t until the 1950s that plate-tectonic theory started to become commonly accepted.
In traditional educational environments teachers give you the “truth.” In Sudbury schools students must examine the evidence and find what is best supported by the data. Which approach do you think will lead to people who are better able to consider new evidence?
In traditional school every student is taught the same things at the same times. This means that it is important that students “stay on track” or they will fall behind. They will not be able to understand the things being taught to their classmates. Falling behind is often a cause for concern when a student is ill for an extended period, transfers to a new school in the middle of the semester or cannot attend school for any other reason. When there are a large number of snow days in the same year, parents and teachers worry that an entire school might fall behind.
So, how do we make sure that students keep on track? We did away with the track. There is no reason for every student to learn the same thing at the same time. When a student calls in sick, does not grasp a concept at the same time as another student or there is a snow day, we do not worry. (The track’s like a social construct man. You can’t fall off if you don’t believe, just like prescriptive grammar)
Liam Marshall-Butler is currently a student at MLSS.